Thursday, April 29, 2010

Save a Seed Today!

I decided to repost this for some of you who might not have seen my first post about my campaign to save a seed! Any amount counts and all donations are secure through PayPal. Click on my little friend for my previous post and all the info you need!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

Today's signature drink comes from Rob Pethes, not just a "Regular Joe" but an amazing travel photographer based in Toronto. I have been lucky enough to taste this margarita myself, and can assure you, it's the best margarita I've ever had. Full stop. Don't believe me? Try it yourself! Rob sent me the story behind his favourite drink, and he told it so well, I thought I'd let him tell you about The Perfect South Coast Margarita himself:



THE STORY:

Like all great cocktails, this one is partly someone else's recipe, and partly my own inspiration. And of course, like all great cocktails, it comes with an even better story.

I lucked into what I consider to be one of the best margaritas ever as my wife and I were touring around California a few years back. We were staying in a great little B&B called the Blackberry Inn just outside of Yosemite National Park in Groveland, California. The proprietor, Ann Marie Brown has a wonderful place with a big wraparound porch out front and a dozen hummingbird feeders along the porch. In the evening hundreds of hummingbirds come out to feed from the bushes. You're literally 4 feet away from these beautiful little birds, buzzing around back and forth, as you enjoy a glass of Chardonnay on the porch, munching on some of the best home made chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. If you ever make it to Yosemite, I strongly suggest you stay at the Blackberry, which gets consistently amazing reviews on Trip Advisor.

Ann Marie is quite the traveler. She's the author of 13 guidebooks on hiking in California. You can see some of her books on her website. After a few days in Yosemite we were on our way to Big Sur on the Pacific Coast. Ann Marie told us that we simply had to visit Nepenthe for some great food and the best margarita we'll ever have. As a huge fan of spirits in general, I was sold! This place is right on the edge of a cliff and looks out onto the Pacific with a fabulous menu, great views, and apparently great margaritas. Tasting the 'South Coast Margarita' was my new mission for this trip.


Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur a.k.a. Rob's mad photography skills

I wasn't disappointed. The margarita was tart and strong, but not so much as to knock you down. We had a great meal, watched the sunset, got a few photos and had a wonderful night. If you'd like to have a look at some photos from California, please visit my website. Above is one of the views from Big Sur, a beautiful part of the Pacific Coast Highway. This part of California needs to be on your travel list. Nepenthe has a great webcam too -- for those dark days of winter, you can click on their site anytime you like and take in the views.

TEQUILA, TEQUILA, TEQUILA

Back to the margarita. Like all cocktails, the trick is to blend good ingredients. You can go cheap and use some silver crap tequila, and Triple Sec, but you may as well use one of those Margarita mixes if you're going to do that. Here is my suggestion: do it right. Once you taste this South Coast Margarita, you'll never be happy again with the weak cocktails they serve at most bars.

Tequila is a lot like Scotch, there are various grades, colours and vintages. For straight up shots, you want as good a quality as you can afford, at least Reposado which means up to 1 year of aging. The more expensive Anejo is 1 to 3 years. Anejo is sipping tequila, but it's pricey. The Silver or Blanco is unaged and frankly not worth mentioning. If the Tequila needs salt and lime to stomach, then you're drinking crap. Good tequila can be sipped without any additives. The last part of the Tequila story is that you want 100% de agave, which is basically the difference between blended Scotch or Single Malt. The one I'm drinking right now is Cazadores (Reposado) which goes for around $40 at the LCBO. A nice mid priced bottle that is smooth, with a little heat on the way down. With a mixed cocktail, you don't need to use the best tequila, but you don't want to use junk either.

TEQUILA'S FRIENDS

As I mentioned, no Triple Sec. That's a cheat. You need to use good ingredients, which means you're going to use Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Get the small bottles first, cause this stuff is pricey. Finally, get yourself some ReaLime in a bottle, some fresh limes, some Tonic water (in a can so it's always fresh), and some ice. The Tonic water is my personal tweak to the recipe. It takes away the strength of the liquor, gives it a bubbly effect, and enhances the limes. This drink is so refreshing that you'll have guests showing up all the time. I'm warning you, be careful who you share this drink with!

THE RECIPE


Ingredients

Use a medium or tall glass. I rarely measure the liquor in my drinks, but in this case use a jigger to get the right proportions.

  • 3 cubes of ice
  • 1/2 lime, quartered and squeezed into the glass (this isn't a garnish -- use it all!)
  • 3 squirts of ReaLime lime juice

Add:

  • 1 oz good quality Tequila, 100% de agave, minimum a Reposado aging(Cuervo Gold, Cazadores, El Jimador, Cabo Wabo, Olmeca, Herradura, Milagro, whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau

Fill up the glass with tonic water.Stir and enjoy with friends.

If this isn't the best Margarita you've ever had, then please, email me your recipe, because you and I need to be friends!!


The Perfect South Coast Margarita

My extreme thanks to Rob for sharing this recipe with all of us and for his entertaining and honest way of telling the story! I can say from experience, I have been one of those guests that he's made this drink for and I always request it now when I visit! Cheers, everyone!

Rob Pethes Photography

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farmers' Market Season


Rainbow chard from the Ottawa Farmers' Market

However chilly it may be outside, that doesn't change the fact that farmers' market season is almost upon us! With most markets opening in early May, I'm sure there's a market in your area that you will enjoy. Inspired by Lisa Borden's tips for visiting a farmer's market, I thought I'd share my own tips, along with some photos I took this past year at some lovely markets:


Cherry tomatoes from the Parkdale market

Shop around
If there is more than one market in your area, why not explore a different market each week? You might discover a farmer or food producer you haven't yet encountered, or even a crafter or artisan who makes unique gifts! By shopping around, you are supporting more local vendors and giving yourself new experiences!


Mushrooms from Le Coprin


Summer sausage from the St. Jacob's Farmers' Market (near Kitchener)

Read the signs
Not all food at a farmers' market is locally grown. (Gasp!) Yes, it's true. Read the signs carefully and try to buy locally when you can. Don't assume that just because it's at the farmers' market it's hasn't necessarily been shipped in from (for example) the U.S.A. Some markets are all local, which will definitely make it easier to shop locally, but some are not, so make sure you peek at the signs just to be sure.


Cucumbers from the Ottawa Farmers' Market


Heirloom carrots from the Parkdale Market

Write it down
If you see a vegetable you don't recognize, talk to the farmer or vendor and find out what it is, and write it down! Type it into your Blackberry or take a photo of it with your iPhone. A farmers' market can be a great place to learn about new fruits and veggies. Once you discover new varieties, you can get creative with recipes and create some amazing meals.


Raspberries from McGregor's Produce


Rhubarb from the Parkdale Market

Meet a Farmer
Not all sellers at the market are actually the farmers, some are simply helping out or they are vendors who purchase from farmers or other suppliers. If, however, you do come across the farmer, why not have a chat? If you are able to get through the throngs of shoppers, why not say hello and ask them some questions about their product? Farmers take a lot of pride in their work and I am sure they would be happy to see an enthusiastic shopper eager to learn more about what they grow or raise. Some farmers like to chat more than others, so just be sure to gauge the situation and you and the farmer will both be happy.


Garlic from the Carp Farmers' Market

Have Fun
Some markets have parks nearby or activities for kids, so why not make a day of it and enjoy some of your purchases on a picnic table nearby? It's a great family outing that will educate your kids about food and get everyone excited to cook some amazing meals in the coming week. It's also fun to snap some photos as I did, you don't have to be a "food blogger" to enjoy the beauty of some nicely arranged veggies!

For those of you living in Ottawa or Toronto, I've listed some markets below that you can check out! Don't forget your reusable bags!

Ottawa
Ottawa Farmers' Market
Byward Market
Parkdale Market
Main Farmers' Market
Ottawa Organic Farmers' Market
Carp Farmers' Market
Almonte Farmers' Market
Arnprior Farmers' Market

Toronto
St. Lawrence Market
Trinity Bellwoods Farmers' Market
Wychwood Barns aka Green Barn Farmers' Market
Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market
Evergreen Brickworks Farmers' Market
Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market

Monday, April 26, 2010

Update on Le Cendrillon Cheese


Image via Flickr user Jan Tonnesen

Since publishing my post this morning on Alexis de Portneuf's goat cheese Le Cendrillon, I have since discovered that I've been duped! Many thanks go out to a former colleague of mine who opened my eyes.

I actually thought there was an Alexis de Portneuf -- but as Pamela Cuthbert of MacLean's Magazine points out, there is no Alexis de Portneuf. Much like Juan Valdez, Alexis de Portneuf is a fictional character used to create a personal, artisan-like feeling around the product, in this case, cheese.

However, can it really be called cheese? Is it ok to eat cheese products that claim to be "artisan" but are really made on an industrial scale using modified milk products? Better yet, is it ok to market them as "artisan" if they're not? To the latter, I say no.

Please read the two articles below on this subject and arm yourself with this information next time you're out shopping for cheese. I can't deny that I still enjoyed the taste of Le Cendrillon, but the aftertaste I'm experiencing now definitely isn't pleasant.

Pamela Cuthbert's article: May Contain More than Just Milk

Wendy Holm's article: Canadian cheese should be made from Canadian milk

Le Cendrillon: A Serious Cheese

On the weekend I discovered Serious Cheese, a cute little cheese store near Bank & Sunnyside. I was really on the hunt for some mozzarella for my pizza later that night, but I spied Le Cendrillon in the cheese case and I had to try it! You might have noticed last summer that Le Cendrillon was extremely hard to find since it won Best Cheese in the World at the 2009 World Cheese Awards. Not bad for a little goat cheese from Quebec! I had actually forgotten about it until I saw it, so I asked the Cheesemonger his opinion. He mentioned that back in its prime when it had just won the award, that batch had a gorgeous taste, but now that it is being mass-produced in larger batches, the intensity of taste has waned.

Le Cendrillon (French for Cinderella) is a "vegetable ash covered cheese with a marble textured rind and a smooth ivory body; acidulous, semi-strong taste that becomes more pronounced with age" (description from producer Alexis de Portneuf's website)Also on their website they suggest you pair it with a white wine from the Loire Valley, France. I'll have to try that!

My own experience tasting the cheese was definitely satisfactory. Not overly rich tasting (perhaps because of the larger batch), it was still a nice tasting goat cheese and I think it would be even more delicious with that wine recommendation. Not usually a sucker for marketing, I really enjoyed the little saying on the inside of the cardboard packaging:



Alexis de Portneuf also makes cheese gems such as Paillot de Chevre, La Sauvagine (another award-winner at the 2006 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix), and Bleubry (also an award winner, 2006 Grand Champion at the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair). I recommend you also check out Alexis de Portneuf's wine, cheese, bread and beer pairing guide on their website -- I love added value like this!

What cheeses are you enjoying these days?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

Last week I started a new series called Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros, which will share with you the favourite cocktails and signature drinks of people in and out of the culinary trade.

That being said, allow me to introduce to you our first "Restaurant Pro". Jose Rosales Lopez is a Sous Chef currently living in Vancouver. I met Jose a while back while I was working at Gilead Cafe, and he is definitely a talented Chef with a great balance of professionalism and personality! I remember many a Sunday that I enjoyed a delicious frittata made by Chef Jose, and he also makes a mean guacamole.



When it comes to cocktails, Jose prefers something simple and refreshing:

"My favorite drink would have to be a plain old Vodka Tonic. It's simple I know, but it's so crisp and refreshing after a long night's work. It reminds me of nights out with friends watching comedy shows and general good times. A shot of Absolut with a wedge of lime and I'm one happy camper."


image via flickr user How happy is your happy hour?

With the weather warming up I'm sure some of us will be looking for fun and unique cocktails to sip on patios, however sometimes a simple cocktail can do the trick.

Up next in this signature drinks series: a photographer shares his recipe for the perfect South Coast Margarita...stay tuned!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sarah Elton Talks Local, Sustainable Food at Writersfest

Happy Saturday, everyone! I hope you are all enjoying this gorgeous weather, or are out and about attending some fabulous spring events! Speaking of events, I went to hear Sarah Elton talk about her book, Locavore, the other day as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. If you'd like to read my recap of Ms. Elton's talk, head over to my page on their discussion board! (I apologize in advance for the spacing issues -- something is getting lost in the formatting when I'm posting to their site).

In a nutshell, Sarah did a great job of discussing the local food movement and sharing some of the stories she also writes about in her book. I recommend you pick this book up and take a trip across the country with Sarah as she tries to discover where her food comes from. I was lucky enough to meet Sarah briefly and she was very gracious and agreed to pose for a photo:



You can also follow Sarah on her blog, The Locavore.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perks of Food Blogging: A Decadent Evening at the NAC



Even though most food bloggers "work" for free (that needs to change!)...sometimes we receive some lovely perks in order to help promote the food that we blog so passionately about. A group of Ottawa food bloggers including Simply Fresh, Whisk, Foodie Prints, Apron Strings, Minty Fresh, Rachelle Eats Food, Media Style, Kayahara, C'est Bon Cooking and myself were lucky enough to be invited for a private 5 course dinner at the Chef's table in the kitchen of the NAC's restaurant, Le Cafe. Chef Michael Blackie rolled out his Taste 5 Menu for all of us and we proceeded to swoon over the food and wine, and of course, act like a bunch of papparazzi.





Usually when you're seated in or near the kitchen, it's a bad thing. Not so in this case, as we were seated at a well decorated table in the middle of the action, and we got to jump in and help create our meal from the mise en place to plating and service. With Chef Blackie at the pass, I have to say I was worried I'd experience a Gordon Ramsay moment and not plate something properly, but my hands were steady and it was all very enjoyable. (Perhaps it was the relaxing effect of the glass of bubbly we received upon entry to the kitchen...)


An apron is not my best look, but I still laced it up...

I was placed on Team Flamer, which meant that we were allowed to use blow torches! YES! The power of fire in our hands! We loved every minute of it, as my teammate Emma and I fired up those fresh figs and created a sugary, caramel coating. Led expertly by our team captain, Chef Bento, we enjoyed the little prep we did, but it wasn't enough to really get our hands too dirty, so we still had time to mingle with the other bloggers and shoot copious amounts of photos.




So serious!


Emma likes fire!


Mmm...figs!

1st Course: Brandade crab galette served in a fennel sweet corn broth and garnished with a basil crisp; paired with N.V. Prosecco La Robinia from the Veneto region of Italy.



I really enjoyed the pairing of this crab appetizer with a simple glass of Prosecco. Quite refreshing and the fennel sweet corn broth was a nice complement.

2nd Course: Soya stained torchon of foie gras with warmed duck confit served with green apple gelee and a sugar-torched fig; paired with 2007 Pinot Gris from Burrowing Owl Winery in the Okanagan Valley, B.C.



I know what you're thinking -- foie gras? I thought you made socially responsible food choices? I know, and because of that I almost didn't eat it. However, the Sommelier, Tegan, informed us that the foie gras they use is from Mariposa Farms, and the farmers there don't torture the ducks to get the rich product. I decided to take her word for it, and further research via the Mariposa Farms website seems to corroborate that truth. However, you never really know until you visit a farm, so I intend to do so this summer and see for myself! The sugar-torched fig was to die for, but what can I say -- I love figs!

3rd Course: Crisp skinned salmon with wasabi crack, served with cauliflower and black sesame puree; paired with 2008 Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Rose from Prince Edward County.



The salmon was quite tasty, and this dish was plated on a trendy piece of slate rather than a china plate. The crispy skin was delicious!

4th Course: "AAA Three way" -- a.k.a. Triple A Beef three ways. This included a 65 degree centigrade filet, a braised short rib with crushed pistachio, and pulled beef cheeks with charred pearl onion and oyster mushroom. This course was appropriately paired with a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Golan Heights Winery in Galilee, Israel.



After eating the short rib I pretty much went into a meat coma. Partially because I don't eat that much red meat, but mostly because it was so delicious! The other parts of this dish were also quite tasty, but no match for the pistachio-topped short rib! A highlight in this course was also the Israeli wine. My first time tasting a wine from Israel, it didn't disappoint. Smooth and full-bodied, and perfect with the beef dish.

5th Course: Honeybush semolina spring rolls served with roasted banana ice cream and tropical fruit cubic; paired with Taylor Fladgate Port.


Dessert being plated

Probably my least favourite of the courses, saved largely by the ice cream. We moved into Le Cafe to enjoy our dessert and that was when we bloggers really got a chance to talk food. The restaurant recommendations were flying, and we all enjoyed our nightcaps.

We left with the recipes in hand and a good sense of what MB (Michael Blackie) Cuisine is all about -- in his words: "Canadian Global Cuisine". Described by the NAC as "the true flavours of Canada with a global twist", Chef Blackie's cuisine reflects his background, having been born in England, raised in Montreal and travelled internationally before settling here in Ottawa.

Environmentally speaking, I was happy to see that Le Cafe and the NAC are following the trail blazed by other Chefs and composting their organic material, serving locally sourced water in glass bottles and taking advantage of some of our local farmers' bounty. Not as local as I'd like, but hey -- I ate every morsel so I can't say much more.


Our lovely Sommelier, Tegan

If you'd like to experience the Taste 5 menu for yourself, it's available from Monday to Saturday from 7:30 - 9:00 PM whenever there are performances in Southam Hall. (not intended for pre-performance rush meals, it is a 90 minute experience in which you are meant to savour your food -- shouldn't all meals be like that?).

Thank you to Chef Blackie and his culinary team, Sommelier Tegan, and hosts Jennifer and Natalie. It was a fun experience and I was glad to be a part of it all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What I'm Reading: Locavore by Sarah Elton



I just finished Sarah Elton's book, Locavore, and tomorrow I'll be attending a talk she's giving as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (OIWF). The event is taking place tomorrow (April 22nd) at 12 noon at The Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington. Part of the Earth Day programming, this talk about her book and the local, sustainable food movement throughout Canada should be informative and engaging! I will be sure to report on the event after the fact, or you can check out my blog page on the OIWF's website.



For those of us used to reading mostly Michael Pollan books, or those of us who have recently viewed Food Inc., Sarah Elton's book is a welcome glimpse of Canada's food system. Providing a hopeful vision of our food future, Elton walks the line between facts and personal stories, focusing heavily on her encounters with local farmers and food producers across the country.

In my opinion, this is a great starter book for someone just beginning to investigate the origins of their food. After reading this book, I wished I could set out on a road trip of my own to visit all of the farmers and food producers she met!

You can still meet farmers and food producers in your local area and keep the discussion going about where your food comes from -- start at the farmers' market! I'm sure if it hasn't opened already, your local market is set to open soon, and what better place to strike up a chat about what's fresh and seasonal?

Happy local eating!
Heather

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mmm Coconut...



When you find a delicious dessert, you just have to share it with others, so here you go! I love this coconut sorbet from Ciao Bella.



Icy, creamy and coconutty! Not much else to say, really -- it tastes like pure coconut! The ingredients are: water, creamed coconut meat, shredded coconut and pectin. Pure and simple. Coconut goodness!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vanilla Extract Success!

You may remember that back in February I received some vanilla beans as a gift, and decided to make my own vanilla extract. The experiment required 8 weeks of patience, but today the day has finally come! If you missed my former post, you can read about it here.


Before...


After!

This morning I checked the calendar and realized the magic vanilla hour was upon me! I opened up the cupboard in the kitchen and rescued my vanilla bottle from its dark hibernation. At first it looked a bit lighter in colour than what I'm used to seeing, but once I lifted the lid and took a whiff, an amazing aroma of pure vanilla came over me!



I will continue to share any recipes I decide to make using my homemade vanilla, so stay tuned! Ah, now back to take another whiff...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros

It's Friday, everyone! A perfect day to kick off a new series I've been working on... Signature Drinks: Regular Joes and Restaurant Pros! In this series I'll be sharing with you the signature drinks and favourite summer cocktails of some fabulous people: some are in the restaurant trade, and others are not. They all enjoy a good cocktail though, and I'm happy to share their preferences and special recipes with all of you! Cheers!

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to our first "Regular Joe", although really, she's anything but regular! Meet Briana Buckmaster, an actress and beauty blogger based in Vancouver, B.C.



Briana's blog is called City Cinders (short for City Cinderella) and on her blog she shares her expertise as a makeup artist as well as other great fashion and beauty tips, sprinkled with a good amount of sassy humour and pop culture influence. Currently she is rehearsing an new improv show with Vancouver TheatreSports called Impro-Musical!

Not surprisingly, Briana's favourite drink is just as fabulous as she is: Champagne.


photo via Flickr user Styggiti

"My favorite drink would still have to be a big ol' glass of Champers. I'll take the cheap stuff if it's around. My girlfriends and I used to go to bars and order bottles of it just to feel fancy! It has such a celebratory nature with the sparkly bubbles and all. My favorite these days? Blason De Bourgogne, Crémant Brut Reserve. Yummers!"

City Cinderella
City Cinders Blog
City Cinderella on Twitter

Many thanks to Briana and make sure to stay tuned to After the Harvest for more signature drinks! Up next: a Sous Chef with a penchant for a refreshing cocktail...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Check out this Latte Art!

So what if I'm not really a coffee drinker anymore? That doesn't mean I can't appreciate some amazing latte art! Enjoy :)



















Flickr Photo Credits in Order of Appearance: SCOTTIECALLAHAN, andy.s., thevoyager, Smiling Goat Organic Espresso Bar, BeMyErinMeister, coffeshopchat, baristang, K Robison and MiKAFOTO.